On a January day in 1942, a young Black man penned a letter to the editor at the Pittsburgh Courier asking a poignant question, “Should I sacrifice to live half-American?” The letter highlighted the discrepancy between Black American soldiers fighting for democracy abroad while being denied equality at home. The letter inspired a new movement that came to be known as the Double V Campaign – victory for democracy at home as well as abroad.
James G. Thompson was the 26-year-old author of the letter. Born in Kansas, he was the son of middle-class parents. His father was an inventor and dabbled in various business ventures, while his mother was a schoolteacher with a university degree. Growing up, Thompson excelled in athletics and academics, taking business and journalism classes in high school. While attending college, he honed his writing skills. Those who knew him described him as “very thoughtful and very well thought of.”
Thompson’s ability to express himself through the written word caught the nation’s attention with his powerful letter. Thompson questioned, “Would it be demanding too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life?” Thompson then offered a challenge:
“The V for victory sign is being displayed prominently in all so-called democratic countries which are fighting for victory over aggression, slavery, and tyranny. If this V sign means that to those now engaged in this great conflict, then let we colored Americans adopt the double VV for a double victory… the second V for victory over our enemies from within. For surely those who perpetrate these ugly prejudices here are seeking to destroy our democratic form of government just as surely as the Axis forces.”
With the backing of the Pittsburgh Courier, the Double V Campaign spread quickly as Black communities across the nation adopted the movement. Some organized “Double V clubs,” donned Double V pins, or participated in organized demonstrations. The movement inspired a popular song and a poem. By 1943, the organized portion of the campaign petered out. The Double V Campaign ended without effecting any specific changes, but it raised the visibility of issues important to Black Americans across the country.
As for Thompson, records show he was one among more than 2.5 million Black men who registered for the draft. Combined with the contributions of Black women who enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps, more than one million Black Americans served in the Army during WWII. Thompson enlisted in February 1943 and served until his honorable discharge in 1946.
If you would like to learn more about the Double V Campaign, search our archives, including our assortment of Black History newspapers on Newspapers.com™ today. Also, see additional clippings related to the Double V Campaign on our Newspapers.com Topic Page.
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